Answer: Take paragraphs from books, magazines or newspapers and break the sentences down to their component ideas or kernels. Then, without looking at the original, try to reconstruct the sentence kernels into the original paragraph.
First, here are the kernel sentences from yesterday’s essay by Hal Borland on “The Succulent Bean” in The Twelve Moons of the Year, followed by Hal’s original paragraph. How close did you come to his original? And what did you learn about sentence structure from the exercise?
Kernels. The bean is strange. It is a vegetable. It provides food for man. It provides food for beast. It is like all members of the legume family. It grows in soil. It enriches the soil. It is edible when green. It is edible when dried. It comes to the table. It is green. It is a snap bean. It is fresh from the garden It is properly cooked. It is properly buttered. It is most satisfying. It is an early yield from the garden. Later it is a challenge to every gardener. The gardener challenges every neighbor. The gardener challenges every weekender. The gardener challenges every casual visitor. The gardener will beg them to take beans. The gardener will try to be rid of them. That is later. Now it is a treasure. Now it is a gustatory delight.
Original. The bean is a strange vegetable. It provides food for man and beast and, like all members of the legume family, it enriches the soil in which it grows. It is edible both green and dried. Just now it comes to the table in green form, the snap bean fresh from the garden. Properly cooked and buttered, it is one of the most satisfying of all early garden yield. Later it will be a challenge to every gardener alive--every neighbor, every weekender, every casual visitor--will be begged to take beans, just to be rid of them. But that’s for later. Just now it is a treasure and a gustatory delight.
What did I learn about sentence structure from the exercise? I have marked certain structures in the original in bold face as interesting groupings of words within sentences.Constructing sentence-combining exercises. Taking the time to break paragraphs from publications into kernel sentences and then putting them together again has some significant advantages in learning to improve your writing. You will begin to recognize and practice certain, sometimes unfamiliar, sentence patterns.
Again, from Borland’s Twelve Moons of the Year, here is Borland’s original first paragraph from his essay for July 12, “Rain.”
Original. We fret over a rainy day, resent a rainy weekend or vacation. Rain makes us miserable. Rain is wet. We prefer sunshine, for a rainy day is dull and damp and uncomfortable.
Now “deconstruct” the original sentences into their component ideas:
Kernels. We fret. The day is rainy. We resent a rainy weekend. We resent a rainy vacation. We are miserable in rain. Rain is wet. We prefer sunshine. A rainy day is dull A rainy day is damp. A rainy day is uncomfortable.
Next, don't look at the original and try to reconstruct the sentence kernels into the original paragraph.
Finally, here is another Borland original paragraph on the same subject of rain:
Original. We talk of water shortages, yet water is one of the enduring constants of our environment. Man, not water, is the variable. And man himself has created the growing scarcity of clean water by his careless poisoning and pollution. Yet, rain is water, rain is wet. But like it or not, a rainy day is a blessing to the earth and everything that lives upon it.
Tomorrow, I will suggest how I would have broken this paragraph into kernel sentences. Once you have broken the paragraph into kernel sentences, put the original aside and try to reconstruct the paragraph. Then, ask yourself, “What have I learned about sentence structure from this exercise?” To help you remember, underline the interesting structures in the original paragraph.
All the best. RayS.